More than a decade ago, the NBA made a rule that players could no longer be drafted out of high school. Because of the rule change, the 2005 class was the final one that had players taken straight from high school. Out of all of the players that went straight into the NBA from high school, three would be first overall selections.
The top overall spot had a dud (Kwame Brown), a solid player (Dwight Howard) and one of the best players ever (LeBron James). Those players couldn’t be passed on since nobody was drafted ahead of them, but that wasn’t the case for the rest of the players that made the jump from high school to the pros.
With just over 40 players that were taken in the NBA Draft from high school, there have been a lot of All Stars and future Hall of Famers. Not all of them ended up where they probably should have, though, as teams passed on them for more established players. Today, we look back at the players that were passed up by at least one team in the NBA Draft and where they should have landed.
15 J.R. Smith
J.R. Smith has seen a bit of a career resurgence since joining LeBron James in Cleveland with the Cavaliers. After winning the 2016 NBA Finals, Smith had a fine season in a supporting role with 12.4 points per game. Before that, Smith played with the Knicks, Nuggets and Hornets (now Pelicans) dating back to 2004. It was then that Smith was the 18th overall pick out of St. Benedict’s Prep in New Jersey.
The Jazz had their chance to take a couple of Smith’s out of high school (we’ll get to the other one next) but ultimately landed Kirk Snyder from Nevada. Snyder would only last in the NBA from 2004 to 2008 before heading overseas and then ending his career in 2011. Smith, on the other hand, is back in the NBA Finals once again with the Cavaliers.
14 Josh Smith
Just before J.R. Smith was selected 18th overall by New Orleans, Josh Smith was the 17th pick from Oak Hill Academy by the Atlanta Hawks. Smith would play for the Hawks for nine seasons in Atlanta before spending two in Detroit and then making two stints in Houston and one with the L.A. Clippers. Smith would have his best season back in 2011-12 when he put up 18.8 points and 9.6 rebounds per game.
Overall, Smith would average 14.6 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game before ending his NBA career after the 2015-16 season. Instead, Smith would head to China to play for the Sichuan Blue Whales where he was one of the best players in the league before leaving in January earlier this year.
13 Andrew Bynum
Some might call Andrew Bynum a bit of a bust since he never reached his full potential, but he was still a better option coming straight out of high school than a lot of other players that surrounded him in the 2005 NBA Draft. While Charlie Villanueva (seventh overall), Channing Frye (eighth) and Ike Diogu (ninth) didn’t have the best careers, Bynum was perhaps a better selection.
Bynum, who attended St. Joseph High School in Metuchen, New Jersey, would end up winning two NBA titles and making the All-NBA team in 2012 with an All Star appearance. Bynum’s career would span for just 418 games due to injuries, but he would end up with an average of 11.5 points, 7.7 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game.
12 Al Harrington
There weren’t a lot of big name high school prospects heading into the 1998 NBA Draft, and we had to wait until the 25th overall selection to hear Al Harrington from Elizabeth, New Jersey to get drafted by the Indiana Pacers. Harrington was selected behind the likes of Brian Skinner (Clippers), Tyronn Lue (Lakers) and Felipe Lopez (Spurs). Harrington would end up having a fine career, though.
Harrington lasted for more than 15 years in the NBA, playing for seven different teams before heading overseas in 2014 and 2015. Harrington was not an All Star in his career, but did end up getting an average of 13.5 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game. His best season came with the Knicks in 2008-09 when he averaged 20.7 points and 6.3 rebounds.
11 Monta Ellis
Monta Ellis declared for the 2005 NBA Draft after coming out of Lanier High School in Jackson, Mississippi, but had to wait a long time to hear his name called. After players like Travis Diener (Magic) and Von Wafer (Lakers) were picked, it was finally Ellis’s turn at the 40th overall selection by the Golden State Warriors.
Ellis is still in the league, and has played for Golden State, Milwaukee, Dallas and now Indiana since 2015. Ellis came on strong in 2007 as the league’s Most Improved Player, and would top out at 25.5 points per game in 2009-10. Though he has no All Star appearances, Ellis has averaged 17.89 points, 3.5 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game in his career that has spanned more than a decade.
10 Al Jefferson
2004 was certainly one of those years when high school players were being selected left and right by NBA teams. One of the hottest commodities was Sebastian Telfair, who was selected with the 13th overall spot by the Portland Trail Blazers. However, it was two picks later that an even better high school prospect would be drafted in the form of Al Jefferson from Prentiss, Mississippi.
Like Ellis, Jefferson recently joined the Pacers where he still plays today. Jefferson would reach the All-NBA third team in 2014, thanks to 21.8 points and 10.8 rebounds per game. Overall, Jefferson has put up 16.0 points, 8.6 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game. Needless to say, he was not hyped up nearly as much as Telfair was.
9 Darryl Dawkins
There were strong names early on in the 1975 NBA Draft, especially toward the top. That year, Darryl Dawkins from Maynard Evans High School in Florida was able to apply for hardship that was able to make him eligible for the draft. While the Phoenix Suns made a good pick with the fourth overall selection with Alvan Adams, it was the Hawks that passed up on Dawkins with the third pick.
Dawkins went fifth to Philadelphia while Atlanta took Marvin Webster. Dawkins would become an exciting player in the NBA with 12.0 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game, including some very memorable slam dunks. Webster, on the other hand, would put up 7.0 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game.
8 Moses Malone
Technically, this draft pick came to the ABA, but it also came straight from high school. Moses Malone made the jump from the high school to the professional ranks in 1974, becoming a member of the Utah Stars. Malone would spend one season with the Stars and one with the Spirits of St. Louis before the ABA and NBA merged. The former high school standout that went pro then showcased his talents in the NBA.
Malone would end up playing with several different teams in the NBA, making a dozen All Star teams and winning three MVP Awards, as well as the 1983 NBA Finals with Philadelphia. Malone had countless accolades during his long NBA career that spanned 20 seasons, collecting 20.6 points, 12.2 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game.
7 Tyson Chandler
Tyson Chandler might not be the best NBA player ever, but the Washington Wizards made a mistake in 2001 when they drafted another player out of high school first overall. That player was Kwame Brown, who ended up being a pretty big bust in the NBA, spending just four seasons with the Wizards before heading to the Lakers, Grizzlies, Piston, Bobcats, Warriors and 76ers.
In his career, Brown would put up just 6.6 points, 3.4 rebounds and 0.4 assists per game. Chandler at least went to an All Star Game in his career, winning an NBA title in 2011 with the Dallas Mavericks. Chandler, who has played for six teams, has put up 8.7 points, 9.4 rebounds and 0.8 assists per game.
6 Amar’e Stoudemire
The 2002 NBA Draft didn’t have a lot of star power compared to some of the other drafts that surrounded it, but there was some good talent to be found. With the eighth overall pick, the Los Angeles Clippers would end up choosing Maryland sophomore Chris Wilcox. Wilcox would stick around for 10 years, but never made an All Star team while averaging 8.2 points, 4.9 rebounds and 0.7 assists per game in his career.
The very next pick would go to the Phoenix Suns, who selected Amar’e Stoudemire from Cypress Creek High School in Orlando, Florida. Stoudemire had a fine career before leaving the NBA in 2016, making it to six All Star teams and winning the Rookie of the Year Award in 2003, averaging 18.9 points and 7.8 rebounds in his career.
5 Rashard Lewis
Many of the players that have come straight from high school would end up getting drafted in the first round, but that wasn’t the case for Rashard Lewis. In 1998, Lewis had to wait until the 32nd overall pick to hear his name called by the Seattle SuperSonics. Seattle was able to scoop up Lewis after the Mavericks had selected Ansu Sesay and Lakers picked Ruben Patterson to kick off the second round.
Lewis wouldn’t have a Hall of Fame career, necessarily, but he did make it to the All Star team in 2005 and 2009 while winning a title with the Heat in 2013. Lewis would collect 14.9 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.7 assists in his career, making himself a very viable option, especially toward the end of his run with Seattle.
4 Jermaine O’Neal
During the later parts of the 1996 NBA Draft’s first round, there was a nice run of players in the teens that included Kobe Bryant, Peja Stojakovic and Steve Nash. Then, Charlotte ended up breaking the streak of All Stars by selecting Tony Delk from Kentucky. Delk would have a decently long career in the NBA playing with eight different teams, but never made a huge impact with 9.1 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game.
What the Hornets should have done with the 16th overall pick was use it on Jermaine O’Neal, who was selected at 17th. O’Neal would end up being named to six straight All Star teams between 2002 and 2007, making three All-NBA teams in the process, scoring as many as 24.3 points per game.
3 Kobe Bryant
After being named the top high school player in the nation, Kobe Bryant decided to forego college and go straight to the NBA out of Lower Merion High School in Pennsylvania. It was surprising that Bryant had to wait until the 13th overall selection to hear his name called, meaning a lot of teams missed out on one of the best players of the past 20 years.
It was the Hornets that drafted Bryant, but they would end up shipping him to the Los Angeles Lakers. The teams that ended up passing on Bryant included the Golden State Warriors (who took Todd Fuller) and Cleveland Cavaliers (who took Vitaly Potapenko). There’s a good chance you don’t even know who those two players are, but you certainly know the Black Mamba.
2 Tracy McGrady
The Golden State Warriors have made some great roster decisions over the past few years, but they swung and missed a lot in the 1990’s. One of the biggest errors came in the 1997 NBA Draft when they landed Adonal Foyle, a center from Colgate. Foyle would spend more than a decade in the NBA, but was never an impact player after being drafted eighth overall with a career average of 4.1 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game.
Sitting at the ninth overall spot ready to be drafted was Tracy McGrady, coming out of Mt. Zion Christian Academy. McGrady landed with the Raptors and became a perennial All Star in his career. McGrady would end up averaged 15.5 more points and even 0.9 more rebounds per game than Foyle.
1 Kevin Garnett
Back in 1995, the Golden State Warriors landed the first overall pick and use it on Joe Smith out of Maryland. Of the first five picks in that draft, Smith was the only one that never reached an All Star team in his career. Out of those picks, though, Kevin Garnett was the only that was drafted straight out of high school by the Minnesota Timberwolves. Now, Smith is forgotten while Garnett recently finished his Hall of Fame career.
The Warriors really could have changed the fortune of their franchise by using the top pick on Kevin Garnett, or even the other three that included Antonio McDyess, Jerry Stackhouse and Rasheed Wallace. Garnett would win an MVP Award in 2004, as well as the 2008 NBA Finals while making 15 All Star teams and 12 All-Defensive teams.